Reflections on 9/11 and grief

This is a guest post by Mike Parker, a frequent commenter on this and other Mormon blogs.

By Mike Parker

The horrifying events of 9/11 weighed heavily on many of us today. The video images of United Airlines flight 175 careening at full throttle into the south tower of the World Trade Center will be etched on our national consciousness forever, alongside Abraham Zapruder’s flim of the Kennedy assassination and NASA’s footage of the Space Shuttle “Challenger” exploding above the Florida coast. Al Qaeda’s leaders wanted to pull off an attack that would have maximum public exposure and reaction, and they succeeded.

There is no way to disentangle the events of that awful, horrific September morning with everything that has happened since then. Americans and all free people were shocked at the callous loss of innocent life that took place on 9/11 . Those same Americans have been largely silent at the callous loss of many, many more innocent lives that came afterward, in distant countries where the deaths have been largely hidden from the American press and public. As a result of 9/11, hundreds of thousands of people have died and millions have been displaced. Today we are less free, less safe, and trillions of dollars deeper in debt. Osama bin Laden wanted to draw America into a war that would exhaust our blood and treasure, and he largely succeeded in his goal.

In the days immediately following the 9/11 attacks, I reflected in an email to some friends that I was concerned that America’s vast military might would be unleashed somewhere, disproportionate to what we had suffered. Looking back, I wish that America’s response to 9/11 had been more restrained: send in a special operations team to capture bin Laden and his aides and bring them back to the U.S. for trial. That would have been the moral and just response. It would have showed that we are a nation concerned with the rule of law. This was not an attack by a foreign country that necessitated a military response; it was a criminal act that demanded good police work.

Unfortunately—although understandably—emotions were high in the weeks following 9/11. The United States is the most powerful nation in the history of the world. Our military has a global reach. When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail. There was a demand to “do something,” and a limited police action wouldn’t have satisfied the many people who wanted heads on pikes. Key individuals in the George W. Bush administration certainly felt that way.

And so began our long, slow national slide, with our attention soon turned from Afghanistan to Iraq, and our all-consuming fear of Islamic terrorism the pretense for giving up many of the freedoms we take for granted: Habeas corpus, humane treatment of people in detention, transparent search warrants, unmonitored private communications, even Posse Comitatus (which, fortunately, has been restored). A changing of the guard at the White House in 2008 has brought virtually none of the hoped-for changes in these policies.

And so, I grieve on 9/11.

I grieve for the people who lost their lives in the planes, in the towers, and in the Pentagon, especially those who suffered extreme terror as they waited for help to arrive.

I grieve for the thousands of our servicemen and -women who have died, for the hundreds of thousands who have been injured, and for the 1 in 5 veterens who suffer from PTSD and other emotional difficulties from their experiences (often to the point of taking their own lives).

I grieve for the hundreds of thousands who have been killed because we invaded and occupied two countries unnecessarily.

I grieve for the widespread willingness of the American public to give up liberty in exchange for feigned safety.

And I fear that we will do it again in pursuit of illusory threats.

This entry was posted in General by Geoff B.. Bookmark the permalink.

About Geoff B.

Geoff B has had three main careers. Some of them have overlapped. After attending Stanford University (class of 1985), he worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. In 1995, he took up his favorite and third career as father. Soon thereafter, Heavenly Father hit him over the head with a two-by-four (wielded by the Holy Ghost) and he woke up from a long sleep. Since then, he's been learning a lot about the Gospel. He still has a lot to learn. Geoff's held several Church callings: young men's president, high priest group leader, member of the bishopric, stake director of public affairs, media specialist for church public affairs, high councilman. He tries his best in his callings but usually falls short. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

36 thoughts on “Reflections on 9/11 and grief

  1. Well, in terms of doing it again, here we are in Libya, and with operations in Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and who knows where else besides Afghanistan and Iraq. So, instead of coming home, America seems to be permanently entrenched in an endless war.

    I largely agree with Mike’s comments, with one caveat: I do not think the OBL attack could have been done with a small, surgical force. I think the initial Afghan invasion was morally justified, and it was justified to overthrow the Taliban in the way we did. But we should have declared victory and left nine years ago, and I agree that Iraq, in retrospect, could have been contained, rather than attacked.

    Very few people are as upset as they should be over the loss of civil liberties on American soil. Like sheep, we allow ourselves to be molested by thugs and perverts wearing blue gloves every time we go to the airport. Like sheep, we accept the Patriot Act and its violation of 4th amendment rights. All because we want to be “safe.” Those who give up liberty for a little safety deserve neither (to paraphrase).

  2. One point I want to make is that I have nothing but the deepest respect for our men and women in uniform. They have been under incredible stress for the last 10 years, and I’m amazed at how many of them have remained so committed and professional. I have great compassion for those who have been separated for long periods of time from their families, and especially for those who have come home with physical or emotional wounds. This is truly our generation’s Vietnam.

    I’m also gratified that so many of them follow the example of Captain Moroni, who was described as “a man that did not delight in bloodshed; [but] whose soul did joy in the liberty and the freedom of his country, and his brethren from bondage and slavery” (Alma 48:11). There have been exceptions to that (the Wikileaks Apache gunship footage being a notorious example), but, for the most part, we should be proud of our soldiers, airmen, sailors, and marines.

    It’s the people in Washington who are sending them out that worry me.

  3. Mike, I’m glad you bring up the irony of commemorating 9/11 but conveniently ignoring the great destruction and much greater loss of life that resulted from the US response to 9/11.

    But I think you do us a disservice by entirely dismissing the US response to 9/11. True, it cost an enormous amount of blood and treasure, and it disturbed a toxic anthill of sectarian fury in Iraq that took years to fizzle out. We made mistakes, and we were overly optimistic.

    No one expected Iraq and Afghanistan to turn into the long term financial and security nightmare it did. But when the nightmare began, I think that staying the course proved to be effective. Should we have pulled out earlier? Troop surges seemed to have worked, time and patience and constant, unrelenting presence finally stabilized things. Today, Al Qaeda no longer represents the same kind of serious threat it once did. We’ve learned important lessons about foreign engagements in Middle Eastern wars, lessons that were effectively applied in Libya. Iraq is stable and slouching towards democracy. Afghanistan doesn’t promise to stabilize, but it is somewhat contained, and better off than entirely in the hands of the Taliban. The Arab Spring turned Muslim resentment away from the US and towards more productive and hopeful goals of a better, more democratic government. Al Jazeera is no longer radically anti-American. The message has changed. Muslim nations now appeal to the international community on behalf of their revolution against corruption in government, instead of demonizing the infidels. Radical Islam is actually on the wane.

    Would all of these positive signs have happened without the US interventions? Maybe, maybe not. But I think 9/11 memorial gives us a chance to reflect on how far we have come, how much progress we have made. And I think it is significant. The Middle East is a far more hopeful place today than it was in 2006. This was not Vietnam. I think we won the war in Iraq.

  4. Good thing World War II didn’t happen in this generation. The photo argument here is the weakest because the same standards for combat photography existed then as it does now and there were ten times as many dead and misplaced. They didn’t have Internet like we do currently if you really want to make sure photography gets out to the public.

    As for the idea that these were needless wars? Al Quada has been all but made irrelevant, the Taliban a bunch of powerless renegades, an Iraqi dictator long gone with the insurgents that followed currently ineffective even if occasionally deadly, and the list could go on. Was there serious pain along the way? yes. Was it worth it? I think so.

  5. By the way, the problem with the attack on Libya isn’t about starting another war, but how it was done. Unlike Iraq and Afghanistan, despite the re-written history of some liberal press, George W. Bush got clearance from Congress like the Constitution demands. Pres. Obama didn’t and used the old Vietnam tactic (ironic really) of police action label. I also think that, to the chagrin of the libertarians here, he would have gotten permission so it was a waste of political capital for wanting to make sure he got his way.

    That isn’t to say I would have personally agreed with the Lybia involvement. Unlike Afghanistan and Iraq, Libya’s was a private war in a nation that hasn’t had any kind of entanglement with the U.S. for over 20 years. On top of that, other Middle East countries treated civilians the same way and there wasn’t costly bombings. The good news is that no ground troops (non-native) were needed, but that would fall under this OP callous disregard for foreign lives.

  6. Nate: I doubt there’s much we could discuss that would bring us closer on this issue when we disagree over even the basic facts, such as:

    “No one expected Iraq and Afghanistan to turn into the long term financial and security nightmare it did.”

    The Bush administration gave glowing, rosy scenarios, pre-invasion. “It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months.” — Donald Rumsfeld, February 2003. “There’s a lot of money to pay for this. It doesn’t have to be U.S. taxpayer money. We are dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon.” — Paul Wolfowitz, Congressional Testimony, March 27, 2003.

    “Troop surges seemed to have worked, time and patience and constant, unrelenting presence finally stabilized things.”

    Actually, it was bribery and the civil-war weariness that stabilized things in Iraq. The troop surge wasn’t what ended the violence; it was the U.S. giving cash and guns to influential people and buying their loyalty against Al Qaeda in Iraq, along with the Iraqis just getting sick of killing each other. Given time, this will likely come back around. Hopefully we won’t find ourselves being shot at by the same weapons we doled out.

    “The Arab Spring turned Muslim resentment away from the US and towards more productive and hopeful goals of a better, more democratic government.”

    The Arab Spring in due in part TO American resentment — resentment that we prop up people like Ghaddafi and Mubarak and the government of Bahrain. We’re fortunate that it’s hasn’t been directed at the U.S. centrally, but the people in the Middle East are getting sick dictators that we keep in power. And last week’s riot at the Israeli embassy in Egypt doesn’t paint a picture that everything’s now hunky-dory between the Egyptians and America’s favorite client state.

    So I don’t think we’re going to see eye-to-eye on much of anything here.

    And Jettboy, props for going for Godwin’s Law in your first post. Comparing anything to World War II is fruitless because that scenario was so unique that it’s useless to employ it when talking about the Taliban, Saddam Hussein, Iran, North Korea, or anything else today.

    Off to bed now.

  7. Unique to you I suppose, but not to me. War is war no matter who is fighting. I compare any and all wars to World War II. Hilter didn’t start out as the world dominating evil mustache twirling dictator, but perhaps we should have treated him as such sooner. Those in power also knew that Japan would declare war, but not that it would be so direct with the challenge. There is no such thing as a “clean” war. From hindsight we won a righteous war, but as the saying goes the victors write the history.

    To be clear, I feel that Vietnam is the “unique” one where weak knee politicians wanted a fight without understanding its an all or nothing proposition. Iraq and Afghanistan I believe was only a few months war – The Taliban was defeated and the Bath Party along with Saddam Hussein kicked out of power. Our objectives were clear and we met them. The insurgency is what changed the situation and I personally don’t see them as the same war, just new enemies coming out of the woodwork. That would just leave the question if American troops should have remained to clean up the mess. Since Americans are charitable people, leaving those countries in the poor conditions was unacceptable.

  8. Jettboy: “[WW2 was] unique to you I suppose, but not to me. War is war no matter who is fighting. I compare any and all wars to World War II.”

    Then I’m afraid we have no common point of reference to begin a discussion, as I completely, wholly, and fundamentally disagree with you and think your comparison is myopic and foolish.

  9. You can always argue the differences if you think there is such a contrast between World War II and other conflicts. That is a place to start unless you would rather use ad hominem as the basis for an argument.

  10. Jettboy, do you realize that even the church leadership opposed our entry into WWII? The wars in the US have fought for the last century have not been righteous wars.

  11. Other than “they both involved armed conflict,” the differences between World War 2 and the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are legion. I could create a list with hundreds of bullet points of differences. Let’s start with some of the most obvious:

    * WW2 involved a global conflict between technologically-advanced, powerful alliances of nations. The War on Terror (WoT) involves a single, technologically-advanced nation with a handful of much smaller allies against two vastly technologically-inferior nations. In other words, a contest of large equals versus a enormously lopsided contest of unequals.
    * In WW2, the Axis powers had invaded other sovereign nations, including democratic countries, and was threatening to expand their reach to become a dominant global superpower. In the WoT, Iraq and Afghanistan were led by petty dictators who posed no military threat to their neighbors, let alone to the United States.
    * In WW2, the Allied nations faced off against Axis naval, air, and land forces that were superior in numbers and capabilities at the start of the conflict. Neither Iraq nor Afghanistan had credible naval or air forces, and only Iraq had a semi-credible land force (which was still vastly inferior to U.S. forces).
    * WW2 was the result of 20+ years of expansionist foreign policy by the Axis powers, fueled in the 1930s by a worldwide depression and nationalistic fervor. The WoT was the result of a criminal act by a small group of renegade fundamentalist extremists who were responding to what they believed was U.S. intervention in the Middle East.
    * America’s entry in to WW2 was based partly on support for Great Britain and other European nations against Hitler, with the tipping point being Japan’s naval airstrike against U.S. forces based in Hawaii. America’s entry into the WoT was based on rooting out Islamic extremists based in Afghanistan, and the (false) assertion that Iraq had vast stores of WMDs that it was planning to give to terrorist groups for use against the United States and Israel.
    * WW2 resulted in over 60 million people killed, including 600,000 Americans. The WoT has resulted in an undetermined number of people killed (estimates range from 70,000 to 1 million), including 5,000 Americans.
    * WW2 had clear objectives: Defeat enemy land, air, and sea forces, resulting in the unconditional surrender of the Axis nations and the occupation and reconstruction of those nations by Allied forces. The WoT has had no clear objectives, other than stopping terrorism, and creating stable countries (nation-building) that will not harbor terrorists.
    * WW2 required the cooperation of large and powerful Allied nations (the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union) to overcome the Axis powers. The WoT has been almost exclusively a U.S. effort, with Great Britain in a smaller (albeit significant) role, and many other nations sending token forces to show their support for U.S. policy goals.

    Jeez, I could go on and on and on here. World War 2 has no substantive similarities to our current situation, and virtually nothing to teach us about how or why to fight in Iraq or Afghanistan. Tanks? Aerial bombardment of factories and rail yards? Naval battles? Island-hopping beachhead invasions? What does any of that have to do with Kandahar and Mosul?

  12. ldsphilosopher *da ding* Thank you for at least having a consistent answer. Those who are against the Iraq and Afghanistan wars must understand that many of the reasons that are argued against them can be said for all American Wars for the last 100 years as you say. If you are for WWII, then you should be for the others, even if you might disagree with some choices made during the wars.

  13. “Tanks? Aerial bombardment of factories and rail yards? Naval battles? Island-hopping beachhead invasions? What does any of that have to do with Kandahar and Mosul?”

    If you going to go in, then go in all the way. None of this “hearts and minds” that do nothing other than get troops killed because using kids gloves.

  14. Jettboy: “If you going to go in, then go in all the way. None of this ‘hearts and minds’ that do nothing other than get troops killed because using kids gloves.”

    So, if I understand you correctly, you’re arguing for massive aerial bombardment of civilian populations in Afghanistan and Iraq, followed by total occupation (which would require a compulsory draft to get the needed numbers of troops). Right?

  15. Jettboy: “If you are for WWII, then you should be for the other [wars America participated in the 20th century].”

    I don’t think that follows at all.

  16. Jettboy, my position is that I am only in favor of defensive wars, wars where the US is directly attacked. I use as my moral guide the early chapters of 3 Nephi when the Gadianton robbers are threatening the government of Lachoneus (with Nephi as prophet). Lachoneus gathers all of the people to one place. The robbers of course don’t want to work planting, farming, etc, so they begin to starve. They attack the Nephites, and a massive battle ensues. The Nephites pray and are protected because of their righteousness. They win the battle and capture and/or kill all of the robbers. We can also remember that Mormon was a great war leader but refused to lead the people when they became bloodthirsty.

    The lesson: wars defending yourself are justified. So, the first part of the Afghan war was justified. Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Vietnam, Korea, and on and on were not. World War II *was* justified (we were responding to Pearl Harbor), but I would say that if we had not entered in World War I (a non-defensive war) we never would have been attacked at Pearl Harbor. So, it is completely consistent to say the following: if you only engage in completely defensive wars, you are following the right moral path.

  17. I’m also with Geoff on this. And I spent 20 years in the Air Force (retired in Nov 2002). We had every right to go into Afghanistan, but should have concluded the war in 6 months, then went home. We should have entirely pulled out of Iraq back in 1993 or so, with harsh warnings to Saddam about harming Shiites or Kurds, etc.

    We need to be the world’s example, not the world’s police force. There are reasons to go to war, such as Pearl Harbor or the 9/11 attacks. But to go in on our own account is not a good reason. We need to return to the Casper Weinberger Doctrine.

  18. Mike, right. What does that mean then? That if we are going to war then it better be for a very good reason and not as some half-done “police action” of limited capacity. That doesn’t mean that we have to go all out at the start because that might not be unnecessary. It does mean that if conditions change then we shouldn’t continue treating the engagement like we started and be prepared for more forceful approach. That was the problem with Iraq as I see it after the first victory.

    Geoff B. and rameumptom, almost though convinces me to be an anti-war conservative (although technically your not as you support the idea of defensive wars), but there are beliefs I have about Iraq and “nation building” that keeps me from crossing that threshold. At least I feel you both are more consistent than the liberal arguments that seem fairweather partisan (i.e. voted for before spoke out against Iraq, surge bad during Bush and good during Obama, police action bad under Bush and good under Obama, quoting lots of anti-war demonstrators during Bush and silencing them during Obama, etc).

  19. “There is one and only one legitimate goal of United States foreign policy. It is a narrow goal, a nationalistic goal: the preservation of our national independence. Nothing in the Constitution grants that the President shall have the privilege of offering himself as a world leader. He’s our executive; he’s on our payroll, in necessary; he’s supposed to put our best interests in front of those of other nations. Nothing in the Constitution nor in logic grants to the President of the United States or to Congress the power to influence the political life of other countries, to “uplift” their cultures, to bolster their economies, to feed their peoples or even to defend them against their enemies.” —Ezra Taft Benson

    “I have always given it as my decided opinion that no nation has a right to intermeddle in the internal concerns of another; that every one had a right to form and adopt whatever government they liked best to live under them selves; and that if this country could, consistent with its engagements, maintain a strict neutrality and thereby preserve peace, it was bound to do so by motives of policy, interest, and every other consideration.” —George Washington

  20. “That doesn’t mean that we have to go all out at the start because that might not be necessary.”

    I really wish there was an edit in comments sections.

  21. Me: “So, if I understand you correctly, you’re arguing for massive aerial bombardment of civilian populations in Afghanistan and Iraq, followed by total occupation (which would require a compulsory draft to get the needed numbers of troops). Right?”

    Jettboy: “Mike, right. What does that mean then? That if we are going to war then it better be for a very good reason and not as some half-done ‘police action’ of limited capacity.”

    So, to be absolutely clear: You would support the massive aerial bombardment of a civilian population in wartime, under the rule of going “all in.” Have I fairly stated your position?

  22. Jettboy, and any other conservatives reading this: it was big government liberals that got us into our three most horrific and unnecessary wars of the 20th century. Wilson got us into World War 1 (after promising he wouldn’t). Truman got us into the Korean war (without congressional approval — and a completely useless war with no victory). And Kennedy/LBJ got us into the Vietnam War (while Nixon in a very bloody way finally ended it). There was honest conservative opposition to all of these wars. Favoring big government wars is not a conservative position.

  23. To add to Geoff’s list, there was conservative opposition to U.S. involvement in Bosnia, as well:

    Then-House Majority Whip Tom Delay (R-TX): “Mr. Speaker, this is a very difficult speech for me to give, because I normally, and I still do, support our military and the fine work that they are doing. But I cannot support a failed foreign policy. *** But before we get deeper embroiled into this Balkan quagmire, I think that an assessment has to be made of the Kosovo policy so far. President Clinton has never explained to the American people why he was involving the U.S. military in a civil war in a sovereign nation, other than to say it is for humanitarian reasons, a new military/foreign policy precedent. *** Was it worth it to stay in Vietnam to save face? What good has been accomplished so far? Absolutely nothing.” [Congressional Record, "Removal of United States Armed Forces from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia," 4/28/99]

    Then-House Majority Whip Tom Delay (R-TX): The deployment of U.S. military forces in Kosovo is “just another bad idea in a foreign policy without a focus.” [Editorial, Saint Paul Pioneer Press (Minnesota), 3/17/99]

    Then-House Majority Whip Tom Delay (R-TX): “America needs to quickly change directions and leave behind this chilling comedy of errors that has defined our foreign policy.” [Copley News Service, 3/22/99]

    Then-Senate Assistant Majority Leader Don Nickles (R-OK): “I want NATO to be credible, but for crying out loud, when you are so arrogant to say here is our wisdom, here is this accord, we determined this is in your best interest and you must sign it or else we are going to bomb you—I stated in my speech on the bombing resolution that I don’t think you can bomb a country into submission or into signing an agreement.” [Congressional Record, Senator Don Nickles, 5/3/99]

    Senator James Inhofe (R-OK): “(P)resident [Clinton] has decimated our ability to defend ourselves.” [USA Today, 4/5/99]

    Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH): “I don’t believe that a ground war in Kosovo using American troops is going to be very successful.” [NBC, "Meet the Press," 4/18/99]

    Representative Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-CA): “This is the most inept foreign policy in the history of the United States.” [Washington Times, 4/29/99]

    Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN): “This is President Clinton’s war, and when he falls flat on his face, that’s his problem.” [New York Times, 5/4/99]

    During the Balkans Campaign conservatives felt no compunction to stop politicking past the water’s edge.

  24. Interesting philosophical differences.

    If I remember correctly, one of the big philosophical differences during the Bush/Gore debates was the question of Nation Building. Gore was for it, Bush was against it. Ironically, Bush turned into the big nation builder, and Gore consistently opposed the wars (probably only to be politically contrary, similar to the conservatives who opposed Clinton’s Bosnian intervention.)

    While I agree with Mike and Geoff that “nation building” often doesn’t work, and often does not prove cost effective, I still consider myself philosophically a “nation builder.”

    While the US may have bungled Iraq, Vietnam, Korea, and others, think of all the places where it could have intervened and saved millions of lives: Rwanda, Cambodia, Sudan. Our failure to stop genocides in these countries is one of the primary motivating factors in invading Iraq and Afghanistan, where we also had accounts of genocide and other atrocities. No president wants to be guilty of having allowed another Rwanda to happen.

    I don’t buy the Book of Mormon argument that you should only fight wars of defense. I believe that a strong and good country is morally obligated to do what it can to promote peace and freedom around the world, and sometimes that means killing bad guys who may not be directly threatening American citizens, but who are murdering our neighbors. The idea that we should only look after our own strikes me as a bit self-centered. (Was Benson really against the war in Vietnam, given the quote Geoff cited?)

    Mike, you yourself mourn the loss of Middle Eastern life that came from sectarian violence in Iraq following the invasion, so it seems you do actually care whether people live or die in other countries. When faced with an opportunity to save lives and promote peace and freedom through military intervention, would you not agree that sometimes it might be appropriate?

    I’m not saying that the Iraq War “saved lives,” (although I think this may actually be the case, given Saddam Hussein’s history of mass killings, who knows what things would be like if we left him in power). Of course you have good arguments against many of these engagements, and often we may go in irresponsibly,.

    But I don’t think you can convincingly argue that aggressive intervention is never appropriate in trying to promote peace and freedom around the world.

  25. Nate: “Mike, you yourself mourn the loss of Middle Eastern life that came from sectarian violence in Iraq following the invasion, so it seems you do actually care whether people live or die in other countries. When faced with an opportunity to save lives and promote peace and freedom through military intervention, would you not agree that sometimes it might be appropriate?”

    The problem with an interventionist foreign policy is that it works only in theory. Like the world’s remaining Marxists, interventionists continue claiming that it will work under the right circumstances and leaders. Only these circumstances and leaders never emerge — American interventionism has been failure after failure.

    With regard to welfare, the Church requires that people first take care of themselves, then go to their families, and then come to the Church last. I follow a similar requirement for dealing with authoritarian governments: They should be taken care of first by their own people (as we’ve seen recently in Tunisia and Egypt), then by surrounding nations that have interest in regional peace and stability, and then by distant nations acting together (never unilaterally).

    So problems in the Sudan should be dealt with by the Sudanese first, then by the African Union, and then by the United Nations. (I generally think the United Nations is inept and corrupt, but this is one legitimate role for them.) The United States should not be stepping in everywhere around the world — we can’t afford it, it creates enemies, and it often turns into a quagmire.

  26. I should note that it would go a long way toward “promoting peace and freedom around the world” if would end arms sales to every country led by a guy with a little hat and funny mustache, and if we would expand our trade efforts more.

    Cuba remains a tin-pot dictatorship because we prevent the flow of serious capital in there. The Iranians hate us because we do no business with them, invade their neighbors, and cruise up and down their shores with big aircraft carriers. Just think what would happen if we backed off, allowed U.S. firms to invest there, and gave those people a taste of wealth and increased standard of living. They would very quickly reject extremism and dictatorship. Witness what’s happened in China over the last 20 years.

  27. I agree with you on Cuba, but not on Iran. Cuba is no longer a threat. What about North Korea? With China we saw that we could broker a stable peace with a mighty nation, like Russia, a balance of powers. But North Korea and Iran are smaller, more threatening dictatorships, worth attempting to keep under wraps. Continue to promote instability and economic hardship in Iran, and the regime looses power, (or so we hope, given the evidence from the recent green revolution).

    So you do agree that the US might, as a member of the UN, have a legitimate role in intervention when other entities fail? What about NATO?

    I agree that the US should not act unilaterally, but as part of a coalition. And not all of these interventions have failed. The US’s first intervention in Afghanistan took out the Taliban, quickly and effectively. Just because it is still mired in corruption and sectarian violence is not the US’s problem. They’ve been that way for thousands of years. But our presence there has been advantageous in the war on terror.

    http://www.e-ir.info/?p=8705 presents a compelling argument for the need of intervention in promoting peace and stability.

  28. At least I feel you both are more consistent than the liberal arguments that seem fairweather partisan

    This is hardly an argument reserved for liberals. How many people that were gung-ho for entering Iraq and Afghanistan were suddenly calling it Obama’s war? Everything changes when your guy is in the WH, it doesn’t matter which side of the aisle you’re on. All the big spending Republicans like Orrin Hatch suddenly falling in love with Tea Party slogans is evidence of that.

    Thing are simpler when you take Geoff’s position. I didn’t like Iraq under Bush or Obama, and I don’t like Afghanistan under Bush or Obama. I think Afghanistan was justified, but I never thought it was focused on the small group that actually attacked us, instead going old-school and trying to conquer a nation.

  29. Nate: “Continue to promote instability and economic hardship in Iran, and the regime looses power, (or so we hope, given the evidence from the recent green revolution).”

    The regime has power in part because they can (and do) blame the United States for everything that is wrong with the country. As long as we remain the Big Bad, the Iranian leaders can keep power by focusing the anger of the people on us, and not them.

    The leaders of Iran are extremely practical people. They’re not insane. They are very deliberate. North Korea is a completely different issue, of course. Pulling our troops out of there and letting China, South Korea, and Japan deal with them would be a good start.

    Nate: “So you do agree that the US might, as a member of the UN, have a legitimate role in intervention when other entities fail? What about NATO?”

    With the Communist Bloc gone, NATO no longer serves any purpose. We should withdraw from it, and remove our forces from England, Germany, and other European nations.

    Might the U.S. have a role in a U.N. peacekeeping operation? Perhaps, if it was local to our borders and affected peace and stability in our region. But not Africa or Asia.

  30. jjohnson makes a good point that Geoff and Mike’s position makes things simpler. You can have integrity in your position regardless of the prevailing political winds.

    One aspect of this debate I haven’t heard is nuclear weapons. In hindsight it’s easy to see that Vietnam was a fruitless engagement, but at the time, it seemed to most experts to be a tactical necessity in maintaining the balance of power against Communism, which was threatening to sweep more and more territory, and bring us closer to the brink of total nuclear annihilation. Now we know that Communism was not an effective enough system of government to even last more than a few decades, but that wasn’t at all clear back then. We thought we would be living with Communism until Christ came.

    Likewise, if we give Iran free reign to develop nuclear weapons, we don’t know that Iran wouldn’t use them against Israel, or use them as bargaining chips to seriously hamper US security. Maybe they will simply become yet another harmless nuclear power like India, but maybe they won’t. Is this a risk you are willing to take?

  31. A nuclear-armed Iran is the neocons’ boogeyman. National intelligence estimates and international watchdog reports continue to insist that Iran is not developing nuclear weapons fail to keep the warmonger right from dreaming about a pretense for American intervention.

    http://reason.com/blog/2010/09/17/iran-neither-threat-nor-menace

    Even if, hypothetically, Iran were to develop a nuclear bomb, Israel has over 200 nuke warheads and is perfectly capable of creating a deterrent state and defending itself.

    Like I said, Iran is really run by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his top clerics, who are a very practical bunch. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may be a firebrand, but he holds very little actual power, and none at all over military matters.

  32. Nate, thanks for the nice words. Let me make a point that I think is often missed. The reason you need to have a consistent policy is that each foreign crisis creates a different environment. People who have a wishy-washy policy often don’t know how to respond. Libya is a perfect example. If your policy is that only defensive wars are justified, then there is no doubt you don’t get involved in the Libyan war. You may help with humanitarian issues, send food and medical supplies, etc., but you don’t use US power to get involved in a foreign war *because the purpose of he Defense department is to defend the United States.*

    Ron Paul has an excellent point, I think, in separating militarism from defense. Defending the country is clearly a federal constitutional prerogative and justified in all cases. Militarism, or projecting US power abroad, is not.

    So, should we help the Syrian people in their uprising against the brutal dictator Assad? No, we should watch and see what happens and obviously get involved in humanitarian efforts if necessary. Should we “take out” Iran’s nuclear facilities? No, Iran could never develop a missile that could hit the United States (and if we were not in the Persian Gulf, Iran would never come after us in the first place). Now, let’s say Iran is linked to an attack on the US, and the evidence is clear. Yes, we should defend ourselves in a proportionate way.

    A guiding principle of nonintervention unless attacked makes it easier to choose “right and wrong” when it comes to foreign policy. It is much too easy to get involved in issues that are none of our business. The Book of Mormon, written for our times, also makes it clear that it is the only acceptable moral position.

  33. I agree with Geoff’s last comment, and would add that Iran would not be a national security concern if we had not had a long history of intervening in their internal affairs (Google “1953 cia coup iran”) and taking a threatening stance by patrolling their coasts, giving weapons (including WMDs) to Iraq in the 1980s Iran-Iraq war, and invading and occupying two nations that share a border with Iran.

    In April 2003 Iran’s top leaders offered the Bush administration a “grand bargain” that would normalize relations and end their nuclear program (Google “iran grand bargain”). The Bush White House chose not to respond, missing out on a major opportunity to fix one of our longstanding foreign policy problems.

    The lesson here is that many of the difficulties we face around the world are of our own making. We meddle, and interfere, and prop up, and tear down, and threaten, and bomb, and invade, and there are a lot of people who hate us because of it. We think we are trying to do good, when, in fact, we are making enemies and creating the messes that we later have to clean up.

  34. jjohnson makes a good point that Geoff and Mike’s position makes things simpler. You can have integrity in your position regardless of the prevailing political winds.

    This has been my position since we entered Afghanistan. I sat watching the interactive maps and video of missiles going off and was so happy that we were paying these people back for what they did. The next day I was sick with myself for how I felt about us killing all of those people, I was just a little too excited, angry, and wanting revenge.

    I can’t feel like that again, it’s bad for my soul. If someone attacks us, capture them or kill them as quickly and with as little damage to anyone else as possible. That’s all I can support now.

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